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When We Help Immigrants, We Help Ourselves

By Donna Poisl

The United States is a nation of immigrants. When we help new immigrants become part of our culture, we can make our country a better place to live for everyone.

Almost all of us who are not immigrants, are descended from immigrants. The United States was built by immigrants and it will always be a country of immigrants. When we think of Chinese, Italians, Germans, English, French, etc. we picture distinct people, cultures, food and languages.

When we think of Americans, we picture a combination of all the other countries. And it is always changing. When people used to picture Americans they saw white people from England, Germany and Scandinavia and the black people descended from slaves. Then Irish, Italian and Jewish immigrants came; at that time none of these people were thought of as white. Asian immigrants came next and now the picture we have of Americans is becoming more Spanish speaking and from Latin America.

Throughout our country's history, there have always been residents who thought the country was full or didn't need people from certain countries. They seemed to believe, "I'm OK, you're not". But the bravest, strongest, most determined, entrepreneurial people from poor countries took a huge chance and moved here to build a better life for themselves. In the process they built a better country for all of us.

If you moved to a new country, what would you do if you knew only a few words of the language and even less of the laws and customs? You would probably first ask your friends, who often wouldn't know the right answers. Then you might make several attempts to do something and then perhaps give up entirely. Then you would find out the hard way (tickets, fines, evictions, school suspensions) that you did something wrong. New immigrants are trying to adapt to life here and struggle every day to fit in.

When immigrants succeed, we all benefit. Some of the benefits are immediate: helping someone in the checkout line at the grocery store to understand the instructions or make change, helps the line move faster. If we speak slowly and help them learn some English, everything in our daily lives works better. Learning a new language is very difficult, but they won't be able to assimilate if they don't learn English. Some people say that these newcomers are stupid or not willing to learn the rules, while they probably are just not able to understand the language or the rules.

If we are friendly and welcoming to new neighbors, they will learn how to fit in and there will be less friction. If there is a neighborhood meeting, take them along. Many of them come from entirely different cultures and have to be shown how to fit into ours.

Tell them about open house and parent-teacher meetings at the local school. Their country's schools might not have wanted the parents to be involved and they don't understand how important it is here. Your children's schools will be better schools if more of the parents are involved and help out. Your children will learn about other countries and cultures from these parents and students, too.

If there is a fire or weather emergency, check on them. Many of them don't know where to go or who to ask about phone and electric service they have lost. They don't know there are shelters and help available. Keeping your neighbors safe will make your neighborhood better and maybe they will be helping you next time. A close community of good neighbors has less crime and drugs and other dangerous activities.

In other words, do the same things for these newcomers that you would want them to do for you if you were new residents in their country. This is also called The Golden Rule.

This is our country, we have a right and a responsibility to help new residents learn how to live here. They won't learn by seeing resentment and hatred on our faces. They will learn by example and friendliness. We will all be happier and we will all benefit when these immigrants become Americans, just like our immigrant ancestors did.

Donna Poisl is President of Live & Thrive Press and the author of "How to Live & Thrive in the U.S. / Como Vivir y Prosperar en Estados Unidos". She wrote this reference guide to help immigrants learn our system and succeed in this country. Contact Donna at

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